Caring for Stick Insects and Praying Mantis
Caring for both stick insects and praying mantis is seldom a difficult task, since their needs are fairly straightforward, which has undoubtedly been a significant factor in their enduring popularity as pets.
Simple to house and feed, both of these insects will often breed very successfully in captivity, adding another dimension to your pet-keeping.
HousingBoth praying mantis and stick insects can be housed very cheaply, demanding nothing more sophisticated than a suitably sized container; catering sized glass jars are ideal – just add ventilation.
Stick insects can be kept in community containers, but mantis need to be housed separately to avoid cannibalism. For a single hatchling or baby mantis, a yoghurt pot with a well-secured gauze lid and a suitable small branch for its inmate to clamber on will do well until it grows larger.
Whatever type of container you use, it’s important to make sure that it will give the insects sufficient height to be able to shed their skins properly; they need to hang down to moult, so a good general guide is to allow three times the animal’s length from the perching point to the base.
Temperature and humidity requirements vary between the different species, but as a general rule, both stick insects and praying mantis need a temperature of 25C (77F) and fairly high humidity. However, there are exception to this, so it pays to know your chosen variety really well.
Feeding Stick InsectsBramble is a good staple diet for all kinds of stick insects, while oak, privet and hawthorn can also be fed to a number of species – including the likes of the familiar Indian stick insect (Carausius morosus) and the Australian Giant Spiny stick insect (Extatosoma tiaratum). Whatever you give your pets to eat, make sure it’s fresh and well washed; stick insects are particularly susceptible to pesticides and pollution, so it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry.
Feeding Praying MantisFeeding praying mantis is fairly simple too; they are efficient predators of other insects, consuming anything they can overpower. Suitable food items include fruit flies and “pin-head” crickets for youngsters, through to large crickets for adult mantis – though both will appreciate any pesticide-free wild caught offerings of suitable size.
Breeding Stick InsectsStick insects lays eggs which, depending on the species they deposit on the ground, bury or hide in nooks and crannies. Many of the larger Australian varieties bury their eggs, so they need a deep layer of a suitable flooring material – two inches (5cm) or so of damp potting compost being ideal.
For most varieties of stick insect you’ll need males and females for breeding, though in some species, such as the Indian stick insect, females will lay unfertilised eggs which then hatch into more females.
How long the eggs take to hatch varies considerably between the different kinds of stick insects, ranging from eight weeks to a year – the larger the species generally the longer the incubation time. For insects which bury their eggs – especially varieties which have a long delay before hatching – it’s important to ensure they get adequate moisture during this time, but equally vital that they don’t go mouldy. Vigilance is required to spot the first signs of mould, so you can clean any affected eggs at once.
Breeding Praying MantisLike stick insects, the females of some species of mantis can produce young from unfertilised eggs, but again, for most kinds breeding is rather more conventional.
Female mantis have acquired a rather gruesome reputation for biting off the heads of their suitors during mating, which leads many pet-keepers to question the wisdom of trying to breed these extraordinary insects for themselves – but it can be done! The trick is to make sure that both parties – and especially the female – have been very well fed prior to their encounter and put them in a large tank, so the male has some space to retreat out of harm’s way.
Since mating can sometimes be a slow process for these creatures, it’s a good idea to have a plentiful supply of food around while the male is in the tank, and it’s advisable to remove him as soon as mating has finished – there’s no point in pushing your luck!
The eggs themselves – as many as 300 in some species – are contained in an egg-case which is usually suspended from a convenient perch above the base of the tank and typically hatch in 3 to 6 months.
A female usually produces five or six egg-cases from a single mating, and the young may all hatch at the same time, or in batches over a few weeks. This can present problems if space is limited, since the first to hatch will often cannibalise their smaller brothers and sisters – so if you are going to breed mantis, give the young plenty of food and lots of places to hide. By the time they have undergone their third moult, each mantis will need to be housed alone.
With over 1,800 species of praying mantis in the world – and nearly twice as many stick insects – many of which appear on the pet market, there’s plenty of choice when it comes to deciding what to keep and hopefully, breed.